Sunday, 10 June 2012

Seaplanes in Suffolk

Having experienced travel by seaplanes in Canada and noticing that the geography, costs and legislation are roughly similar; I consider that seaplane services could be viable in East Anglia and their feasibility as transport infrastructure should be studied further. However it is a chicken and egg situation. My investigation into obtaining grant aid from the Technology Strategy Board for a feasibility study finds that I must be a capitalist with matched funding and have intellectual property to stake on the project. Sadly I have neither. Surely there is a means somehow to fund a study to prove (or disprove) the case for developing local transport infrastructure and amenities without requiring private equity? I set out my case here in the hope that someone can advise me further.

Addendum: scroll to the end to see some results of enquiries.

Like many other places, in British Columbia seaplanes are unremarkable and everyday transport.
Seaplanes provide scheduled services to everywhere there is water with sufficient surface area.
Seaplanes can operate safely in busy harbours amidst other traffic such as at Ganges Harbour on Salt Spring Island.
All you need to create a seaplane port is a dock and a sock. The runways are provided by nature.
Vancouver International Airport is connected to a several docks providing a vast seaplane network serving the west coast of the USA and Canada. King George Dock and London City Airport have even less distance between them.
Seaplanes have practically zero impact on water quality. It is less than boats with their poisonous anti-fouling paint and fuel-tainted bilge water.
This is how you take seaplanes out of the water for servicing.

 
The most popular craft are the De Havilland Beaver and Twin Otter. Worldwide demand for seaplanes has kept these planes in continuous production for nearly 50 years.
Seaplanes serve the urban centres of waterfront cities such as New York, Seattle and Vancouver, where a new city terminal is under construction. A seaplane service operating from the River Thames would reduce the demand on London Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted and the pressure to expand them.
Seaplane trials on the Thames were tried in 1949. Today there is far less river traffic to potentially interfere with each other.
A suggestion for a Suffolk route mixing business and tourism markets. For example, golfers could be carried outbound, fresh oysters could come back inbound.
Light aircraft are very competitive with other transport modes in cost, carbon emissions and convenience when speed is the passengers' priority. Seaplanes are even more so with their lower infrastructure costs.
There is substantial demand for fast and efficient business travel between London and Suffolk. Without it, the region will lose billions in investment and tax revenue to elsewhere.
There is a small population under the potential flight path. The noise of aircraft at take-off is less than a tractor.
The present transport infrastructure serving Suffolk is at capacity and prone to failure.
We can't just keep building more roads to increase their capacity.
Building more roads for more efficient transport would negate the carbon emissions saved. Seaplanes should be considered as part of a national transport strategy.
Seaplane travel would fit well with established tourism in Suffolk.
There are several potential locations in Suffolk for a seaplane port that are suitable, affordable and could generate revenue for local amenity development.
One site I would propose is presently derelict and zoned for industrial use. It could become both a seaplane port, training centre and a nature reserve. There would be a need for a national centre for seaplane development somewhere in Britain. This area was used for that in the 1930s.
It has good connections to other transport modes serving Europe and Great Britain. Services from here could connect to those from the continent.

Harwich to Ostend in under an hour


Local investment is now being made to improve rail capacity and journey times. The £5M Ipswich 'chord' will reduce the rail distance to the north without shunting by 100 miles.
Suitable infrastructure is already in place to begin trials.
Seaplanes need not be limited to light aircraft operation. Multi-mode transfer between ships, rail and seaplanes used to be the way we travelled. Modern materials and technology could produce even more efficient, quieter and safer aircraft than were built before. The US Navy successfully tested jet-engined flying boats.
Seaplanes in Britain are an infant industry ripe for investment and growth. What is holding us back? Report after report points to the UK regulatory conditions framed by agencies unfamiliar with seaplane operations.
The barriers to seaplane operations in the UK are not the natural conditions but the lack of a strategic policy commitment in government. A report on regulations by FUSETRA concluded: “The seaplane and amphibian operation in Europe is a niche market and it is out of the focus of the involved authorities…”

Further reading:

The FUSETRA program is studying the potential of seaplane transport and the ways to harmonize across Europe the different national aviation rules. Its initial reports concluded that there will be many benefits in developing a European seaplane industry.

A University of Glasgow presentation outlining the enormous potential for seaplanes.(pdf)

In 2007 Mott Macdonald transport consultants looked into what are now operational routes in Scotland. 

I wrote to Suffolk County Council to suggest they commission a seaplane feasibility study and got this reply by email.

I also gave this presentation in person (very quickly) to my MP and followed it up with an email. Rather than encourage or endorse this idea, she replied to my question about research grants by passing it to the Department for Transport. Their reply is that the private sector should be the ones to do this and it should not be supported by the taxpayer. The reply says look for advice at http://www.dft.gov.uk/topics/science-research/external


I also wrote to the UK's research councils for advice. On the 7th September I got the reply:

...Unfortunately the field that you describe is not an area within which the Economic and Social Research Council is active. You may wish to approach the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (www.epsrc.ac.uk), who may be able to be of assistance.

I tried them too with the same letter:

>I would be grateful if someone could give me any advice on how I can influence the research priorities of the government or the appropriate research councils to consider investment in amphibious aircraft technology and infrastructure in the UK.
They replied:


>EPSRC does indeed support research and PhD Training into advanced engineering which underpins some of the areas you describe in your e-mail.
 However, EPSRC is not a policy organisation or lobby group in a position to influence government policy in this area directly.
 Some of the research groups we support may be able to advise on how to raise funding for developing the infrastructure you describe. You can find more information about relevant EPSRC-funded groups on our website www.epsrc.ac.uk (see Grants on the Web option http://gow.epsrc.ac.uk/).



3 comments:

  1. There is no restriction on who can fly a seaplane, you can start your very first lesson on a seaplane if you so wish. But due to the higher cost of operating a seaplane in comparison to a land based aircraft, it is wise to get a commercial pilot license and then convert onto a seaplane.

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  2. Great idea. There will be many knockers but I reckon this has a lot going for it as long as the aircraft are kept to the smaller Otter/Beaver type. I've seen these in Canada and, in New Zealand and Norway there are smaller aircraft some of which, as in Norway, just park by the road!
    In addition to passenger transport there could be 'joyrides' which would benefit the local tourist industry.
    Good luck Nat.
    Steve Deacon

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  3. Good write up. I hope local Government there are more pro-active in future just like how they are in some parts of the U.S. I sent you the links for Tavares and Leesburg in Florida (via twitter @airplanetalk) where the local Governments funded infrastructure for seaplanes to be operated from. The result was a payback to the local economy and Tavares is now labelled as America's Seaplane City. It took a far sighted local Government to create a healthy economy. There are a number of cities in the US with active seaplane services in the middle of busy downtown areas and very near major airports. New York, Miami etc are all fine examples. America and Canada has shown that it can be done, now if we can only replicate the same elsewhere in the World, we'd have better connectivity, economy, environment etc that you have written so well in your blog. All the best!

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